Biography and Works


Dimitar Krstev, better known as Dicho Zograf, was born in 1819 in the village of Tresonche, North Macedonia – a country that did not exist at the time, except as a territory within the Ottoman Empire. He was raised by Krste Perkov, an artist specializing in woodcarving, who had married his widowed mother. Dicho received his initial training in his stepfather's workshop. Some of his early works were frescos done for the monastery church dedicated to St. John the Baptist (Bigorski) and St. George the Victorious or Raychitsa. He also worked on the icon screen (Iconostasis) for the church of St. Nicholas Gerakomia in Ohrid.

While working for the Bigorski monastery, Dicho Zograf met a number of other painters and left his father’s workshop. Those painters had studied in the monastic community of Mount Athos. The most notable among them was a certain Michael (Mihail) of Samarina. As all apprentices, Dicho was initially allowed to paint only the background and the first layers of the icons, while the master did all of the finer portions, especially the faces of holy figures. After his apprenticeship with this master, Dicho set up his own shop and took on various commissions in churches in the southern part of the territory of Macedonia (present-day Greece). From there, he travelled to Skopje (the capital of the present-day country of North Macedonia) where he had an important commission – fifty icons for the icon screen in the church of the Holy Mother of God. This marked his artistic breakthrough.


The following passage is based on notes from the Ermeneia, a manual on painting preserved in a manuscript form, most likely completed by one of Dicho's sons.

Dimitar Krstev got married at the age of twenty. He had seven sons and one daughter. He had a very active workshop and apparently about fifty commissions per year. He died in 1873, at age fifty-four, of unknown causes. He had asked to be buried in the corner of the village where he had grown up, but the priest and the teacher thought he should be buried in the main graveyard attached to the most important church.

As with so many other historical figures from this part of the Balkans, Dicho’s national identity is subject to competing interpretations. These ambiguities are exacerbated by the fact that North Macedonia was still part of the Ottoman Empire, surrounded by powerful neighbors such as Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece, all of whom had gained statehood and laid various claims concerning the identity of its people and its culture.

For these reasons, it is not uncommon to find references to Dicho as a Bulgarian or a Serbian painter. In the Ermeneia, he identified himself as a ‘Miyak’ from Tresonce. That term describes a subgroup of Macedonian Slavs from the western part of the country who speak their own, distinct dialect. Macedonian national identity during this period was in flux and the language as we know it today was not codified yet.

Another interesting note from the same manuscript is that he never painted a self-portrait. That is consonant with the Byzantine conventions concerning icon and fresco painters. He also added, however, that his paintings would give anyone who looked at them a clearer impression of him than any self-portrait.


The artistic language of Dicho Zograf marks the final phase of the post-Byzantine tradition of icon and fresco painting. The evolution of his manner is expressed both in the formal aspects of his work, and his iconography. His tendency towards stylized and abstracted forms is in line with Eastern Orthodox ideas about sacred images. His early works are more schematic, with simplified modelling and dramatic highlights, while those associated with his mature period show greater confidence both formally and in his use of symbols. Like other icon painters, he typically places holy figures against neutral, gold-tone backgrounds, which emphasizes their connection to the world of the sacred. In icons of smaller format and those involving narratives, he sometimes includes more realistic backgrounds – with architectural elements or landscapes.


Based on notes in the Ermeneia, as well as other surviving documents regarding commissions, Dimitar Krstev (Dicho Zograf) painted over 2,000 icons for various churches in North Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. His earliest works date to the period of his apprenticeship in the late eighteen-thirties. Between 1844 and 1845, he worked in the village of Kucevishte, near Skopje. In 1844 he he painted several major icons for the Iconostasis of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist (Bigorski), including those of Christ, Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, and St. Demetrius. His next commission was for the church of St. George in the village of Banjane (1845/46), near Skopje.

During this period, he also painted icons for the church of Sts. Peter and Paul in his native village of Tresonche. These include Virgin Hodegetria, St. John the Baptist, The Council of the Apostles, Saint Nicholas, The Three Hierarchs, as well as an icon of St. Athanasius. In 1847 he completed the icon of Archangel Michael with the help of Petre Pachar, who added his signature next to that of Dicho, identifying himself as his student.

Between 1847 and 1849, he created a number of other icons in Tresonche: Doubting Tomas, Nativity, Baptism of Christ, Birth of the Virgin, Sts. Panteleimon and Tryphon, Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Transfiguration, Dormition of the Virgin, Presentation of the Virgin, Sts. George and Demetrius, Sts. Constantine and Helen, Sts. Eustace and Julian, and the Pentecost. Several years later, in 1854, he completed the large cross for the icon screen (Iconostasis).

Other commissions from this time include his icon of the Holy Mother of God for a church in Vevchani in 1849, which would also serve as the model for another icon in Ohrid painted in 1850. He continued his activities in that part of the country, creating some forty icons for various other churches in Ohrid, including an icon of the Holy Healer for the church of the Holy Mother of God.

During this period, the artistic language of Dicho Zograf undergoes a change towards a more mature style. His most important works include the iconostasis in the church St. Demetrius in Volkovia (1852), the iconostasis in the church St. Nicholas in Ljubantsi (1853), as well as icons for the churches of St. Nicholas in Kumanovo (1856) the church of St. Eliyah in Kadino (1857), and St. Marina in Zubovce (1859). Towards the end of 1859 he went to Vranje, Serbia, to paint icons for the church of the Holy Trinity.

In 1860 and 1861, he was active in the church of the Mother of God and the church of Sts. Constantine and Helen in Skopje. He went to Ohrid again to work on several other churches: St. Nicholas Gerakomiya, Holy Mother (Chelnitsa), Dormition of the Virgin (Kamensko), Holy Mother of the Hospital, Holy Mother Peribleptos and St. Demetrius. In addition to public commissions, he created numerous smaller icons for private patrons.

Dicho Zograf’s activities in the Ohrid region involved fresco, as well as icon painting, and even restorations of older icon screens. However, due to the growing number of commission, he began employing assistants with greater frequency, which sometimes resulted in works of lesser quality. In 1867, he worked on the icon screen for the church of St. Nicholas in Vevchani. During this period, his son, Avram Dichov, became an independent artist. In fact, it was Avram who completed this commission in 1879.


1844 St. John the Baptist, Bigorski

1845-1849 Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Tresonche

1846 Church of St. George, Banjane

1846-1847 Church of St. Nicetas (Nikita), Banjane

1849 Church of St. Nicholas, Vevchani

1851 Church of the Dormition of the Virgin, Ohrid

1860-1861 Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Skopje

1865 Church of the Dormition, Epanomi, Thessaloniki

Dicho Zograf, Dormition of the Virgin, 1866, Epanomi, Thessaloniki, Greece

Page from the Ermeneia

Virgin Hodegitria (det. Christ) Kula, Vidin, Bulgaria

Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Tresonce, angel


Many aspects of the life and work of Dicho Zograf remain insufficiently understood. Though there have been scholarly studies of various aspects of his work and essays in exhibition catalogues, there is no comprehensive catalogue – in Macedonian or any other language.

Some of his icons have been shown in exhibitions, but those initiatives have also been restricted by specific requirements and institutional arrangements between Macedonian museum institutions and the Orthodox church. The Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts has begun an important initiative through the Research Center for Cultural Heritage Cvetan Grozdanov (ICKN). The goal is to identify and document all of the works of Dicho Zograf preserved in churches in North Macedonia, as well as in neighboring countries like Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece. This research project is ongoing and will probably take many years to complete.


A number of icon and fresco painters are associated with Dicho Zograf, either as members of his studio, and/ or through family relationships. They include Maksim Nenov-Duke, Blaze Damianov, Isaiah Mazoski, the son of the painter Petre Pachar, a painter known merely as Gligorie, as well as Dicho’s own son Avram.


The cultural heritage of North Macedonia has been under serious threat for a long time due to the complex social and political history of this country. In recent decades, various criminal groups and individuals have stolen inestimable number of works of art, especially from smaller churches located in more remote areas of the country. This has also been the case with the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Dicho’s native village of Tresonce, which was broken into and robbed of almost all of its icons in 2013.


Over the last few years, there have been several grass-roots activities aimed at reawakening the interest in this artist. One of them is a summer school on art in his native village of Tresconce. Though it was only held once, in 2019, the organizers hope to repeat it in the future.

Given the artistic significance of Dicho Zograf as one of the last icon and fresco painters of the 19th century, and the ways in which his work contributed to the preservation of the cultural identity of people who were denied their freedom and right to self-determination, this artist deserves a much fuller study within the academic context, and a more prominent place within the Macedonian cultural memory.

Much of the information for this summary derives from the Macedonian language wikipedia page on Dicho Zograph